Mastermind: The narratives behind Taylor Swift’s success and economic impact

The company that staged the tour in Brazil saw a 93.2% increase in profits and its share price rose 74% after the first week of ticket sales.

Comunicação
13/12/2023
João Felipe Sauerbronn
Anna Clara Legey Seixas

Throughout the month of November, crowds flocked to Nilton Santos Stadium in Rio de Janeiro and Allianz Parque Stadium in Sao Paulo to attend “The Eras Tour” shows. The tickets for the shows in Brazil sold out in less than an hour and, in all, more than 370,000 people attended the singer’s performances in the country. The company that staged the tour in Brazil saw a 93.2% increase in profits and its share price rose 74% after the first week of ticket sales.

To give you a broader idea of the size of the artist’s tour, in the United States, where 68 performances were held, there were almost 5 million spectators and approximately US$2.2 billion was raised from ticket sales alone. The impact was felt in many cities. In Chicago, a record 44,000 hotel rooms were occupied each of the three nights Swift played in the city, generating US$39 million in hotel revenue. The Philadelphia branch of the Federal Reserve reported on the positive economic impact of Taylor Swift’s performances on the city’s tourism. According to Time magazine, in the first five months of the tour, Swift’s concerts were equivalent to two SuperBowls every weekend. In an effort to attract some of this economic activity to their countries, the president of Chile, the prime minister of Canada and Hungarian politicians have publicly called for Taylor Swift to take her tour to their countries.

Taylor Swift has established herself as a global artist and was voted Time magazine’s person of the year. But what explains such success?

The tour’s timing is part of the explanation. After a long period of social isolation imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the light mood of Swift’s songs and the positive atmosphere of her concerts proved to be the perfect combination of musical experience and post-pandemic celebration. Even those who don’t consider themselves Swifties, as the singer’s fans are called, are impacted by the experience of the elaborate production that brings together music, lighting, choreography, costumes and impressive backdrops. Not even a fatality during a show in Rio de Janeiro and the issues caused by extreme heat during the shows in the city diminished the public’s desire to take part.

The number of hits by the artist may also explain her success. Few artists manage to put on a concert lasting more than three hours made up exclusively of songs listed in the Top 10. Swift has 40 songs on this list and she is the artist with the most Top 10 songs of all time, surpassing other stars such as Madonna and the Beatles. In November 2022, she managed to have 10 songs in the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100, a feat never before achieved by any other singer.

However, one important component of Swift’s success is not so explicit: her ability to build narratives that involve people and connect them through music. The singer is the author or co-author of all the works that make up her albums and the strength of her narrative begins in her songs, which are often autobiographical and deal with broken love relationships.

This theme is commonplace in pop music, but Taylor Swift manages to tell her stories in a linear and striking way. Each of her albums represents a phase of her life, an “era,” and that’s where the name of her tour, “The Eras Tour,” comes from. Swift created distinct narratives for each era and throughout the show she moves between musical genres, from country music to contemporary pop, as she tells her story, and uses costume changes as a striking visual element.

The narrative structure of the eras can be understood as a strategy by the artist to bypass any other narratives created by third parties and bring her even closer to her fans. According to the artist herself, the character in “Blank Space” was created ironically, based on news reports about her relationships. The music video for “Look What You Make Me Do” features versions of the singer from different eras arguing with each other and various ironic references to the negative messages conveyed by the media.

Swift’s fans use the narratives offered in her songs to express themselves on social media, reinforcing their identification with the eras. The “lover” era is the reference for fans who are happy with their relationships, while the “reputation” era refers to more vengeful moments. Her ability to engage with fans through her songs is so strong that the friendship bracelets mentioned in the song “You’re on your own, kid” have become a fever and are worn and exchanged between fans. The connection between fans and the music produced by the artist has resulted in 87 million listeners on Spotify and 278 million followers on Instagram.

Reinforcing the narrative of closeness between the artist and her songs, Swift re-recorded four of her first five albums as a way of regaining ownership of her work after having the rights to her albums bought without her knowledge. Fans not only showed their support, but also bought her products. The vinyl versions of the albums “Speak Now,” which was re-released by the singer, and “Midnights,” released in 2022, sold 268,000 and 575,000 copies respectively, according to Billboard. None of this is accidental, just as Taylor Swift states in her song “Mastermind”.

*As opiniões expressas neste artigo são de responsabilidade exclusiva do(s) autor(es), não refletindo necessariamente a posição institucional da FGV.

Autor(es)

  • João Felipe Sauerbronn

    Professor at FGV ECMI, doctorate in administration from FGV EBAPE, Rio de Janeiro. Carried out postdoctoral research at the College of Media at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he was a visiting researcher at the Institute of Communications Research. His studies focus on marketing, consumption and the role of communication in the construction and formatting of markets.

  • Anna Clara Legey Seixas

    Student at Fundação Getulio Vargas and spokesperson for the digital communication program’s student committee. She is interested in many areas, such as marketing, data science and programming, and seeks to develop her knowledge widely. Since embarking on her academic career, she has dedicated herself to the digital world, monitoring trends and cutting-edge technologies. She believes in digital communication as a powerful tool for connecting companies and people.

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